Legal Expert Outlines Paths To Relaunch Sports Betting In Florida

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (By Leonard Zhukovsky)

Florida sports betting is at an impasse for the foreseeable future because the historic compact signed between state officials and the Seminole Tribe was thrown out by a federal court.

The tribe started accepting sports bets in early November, before U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The tribe continued to accept bets for three more weeks, but pulled the plug on sports betting Dec. 4, a day after its request to continue operations while the case is being appealed was denied.

One legal expert suggests those who placed losing bets during the four weeks bets were accepted may be entitled to refunds.

“Every wager made after Judge Friedrich ruled is an illegal wager,” Daniel Wallach, a Florida-based attorney who specializes in gambling law, told Gaming Today. “Her ruling means the wagers were illegal [so losing bettors have] a potential claim.”

Wallach, however, did not express confidence that losing bettors would have an easy time recouping their funds.

Fastest Way To Get Sports Betting In Florida

During the wide-ranging interview, Wallach, a well-known voice in the gaming community, suggested the best way to get sports betting live in Florida was to put it before the voters.

“The path of least resistance just has to be a statewide referendum,” he said.

In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum stating the only way to expand gambling opportunities in the state – aside from those on tribal lands – was through a statewide approval process. Voters took the right to extend gambling away from lawmakers and the governor, and gave it to themselves.

There is an effort underway to bring a referendum to voters, which is backed by FanDuel and DraftKings but being met with aggressive opposition by the Seminoles.  In order to get the initiative on the ballot, 891,589 signatures are required by early 2022. There are more than 173,000 as of Monday, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

While acknowledging supporters are lagging in signatures, Wallach said he thought it was possible for Florida Education Champions – the curiously named group administering the petition drive – to ultimately succeed.

Not all the signatures have been counted because these things take time, Wallach said, adding he would be “surprised” if they were unable to get the requisite number of signatures.

Another Bite Of The Apple

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, lawmakers, and the Seminole Tribe could save themselves a lot of time and money if they just went back to the drawing board and rewrote the compact, Wallach said.

Under the terms of the compact, all bets were deemed legal because while they could be placed anywhere within state lines, they would be processed on a server on tribal lands. IGRA is specific in its language relating to Indian gaming. It stipulates that any gambling considered to be a part of the tribal enterprise must take place “on Indian lands.”

In her ruling, Friedrich called the notion that bets placed outside tribal lands fall under this stipulation “fiction,” and Wallach agreed.

“This is not an elastic statute,” Wallach said, noting the courts, Florida, and the tribe can’t rewrite IGRA to fit their own needs.

When Will The Courts Decide Compact Fate?

Opponents of the sports betting compact covered a multitude of bases in their court filings. In addition to the case filed in the U.S. District Court for D.C. (Friedrich case), they also filed one in the Northern District of Florida. That case is working its way through the 11th District Court of Appeals. It will likely be early spring before a verdict is reached.

With regards to the D.C. case, it now goes before the Court of Appeals. This will be a lengthy process, likely taking up much of 2022 before a final decision is reached.

About the Author
Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary Shaffrey is a writer and contributor for Gaming Today with a focus on legislation and political content. Mary is an award-winning journalist who co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Government." She has spent more than 20 years covering government, both at the state and federal level. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and the Providence College Friars she feels cursed. Luckily she is a hockey mom too so her spirits aren't totally shot.

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